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Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Robbie Adler-Tapia, Ph.D.

Tools for rapid response to agitated community members (Safety first and then use all of your skills):

  • Comforting Voice – Can you change the tone of your voice? Imagine you’re talking to a scared 2-year old. Try to use the lowest and slowest tone. When in crisis, individuals cannot process information as fast as most of us talk. Slow your roll and talk in a lower tone. Also, give one simple direction at a time. In a highly agitated condition, individuals can only process simple commands. Remember KISS? Keep it simple stupid!

  • Objective Stance – Remember this is not about you, but it might seem like it is. Be aware of how you might be triggering the client. Your uniform alone can trigger flashbacks and fear in individuals. Also, your size, gender, and ethnicity can trigger an individual. We can’t control what people project onto us, but we do have to be aware that it’s there. You too can be triggered by the individual you’ve encountered. If you can, take deep breaths because it will calm you and breathing is contagious so the individual you encounter might also begin to calm.

  • Discuss – Again use simple words and explanations. Do not talk about arresting them or curse. Remember, words can also trigger people. Simple, neutral words that explain what you’re trying to do will help. Give two choices in simple, plain language and be aware that you are likely dealing with someone who is impaired in some way by mental health issues, developmental issues, substance abuse, and/or trauma. That’s not an excuse for the individual’s behavior, but it does impact your interaction.

  • Empathize – You are interacting with someone in what might be the worst moment of their life. Approach the interaction with personal safety first and then consider that you’re talking to a family member. What might you do different? It’s very easy to become exhausted and burnt out in dealing with agitated individuals every moment of every day. Make sure you are aware of your own exhaustion and limitations.


  • Re-direct – If possible, notice something that appears important to the individual and re-direct them. Notice a tattoo and ask them what it means or what it’s about. Jewelry might have meaning to them. The clothes might have evidence of a favorite sports team or band or? The art of re-direction can change the agitation and calm the situation.

  • Educate – You don’t have to be right, you can take a one down position. Let them tell you what’s going on and what a bad day they’re having. Let the individual vent about everything that’s bad for them or wrong in their world. Calming the situation and resolving the call is the focus of the interaction.

  • Distract – Change the subject. Offer the individual candy or gum while eating it yourself (if it’s safe enough to do so.) Talk about kids, or football or motorsports or something other then the incident.

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